Expert says murder victim Daugherty ingested 'lethal dose' of antidepressant — (Tribune Review)

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By Richard Gazarik, Staff Reporter
Published: Friday, May 13, 2011

Murder victim Jennifer Daugherty had eight times the therapeutic level of an antidepressant in her bloodstream, more than enough to kill her, a forensic toxicologist testified this afternoon.

Dr. Laura Labay, who works for a private laboratory in Willow Grove, Montgomery County, said that Daugherty, 30, had 600 nanograms per milliliter of Zoloft in her bloodstream – “a lethal dose.”

Westmoreland County jurors hearing the first-degree homicide case against Angela Marinucci, 18, of Greensburg learned that Labay calculated Daugherty would have swallowed about 33 tablets, with 100 milligrams each, of the drug.

Labay said her analysis revealed that Daugherty had acetone, nicotine, rubbing alcohol and traces of an antipsychotic medication, Seroquel, in her bloodstream. She said none of those amounts were fatal.

District Attorney John Peck called the expert to the stand in an attempt to show what Marinucci and five other suspects forced Daugherty to ingest during more than two days of torture before she was slain.

After Labay undergoes cross-examination, Amber Meidinger will resume her testimony about how she and five others held Daugherty against her will in a Greensburg apartment and tortured and humiliated her.

On Feb. 11, 2010, Meidinger gave three different versions to police about events leading up to the murder.

Greensburg police were dealing with the gruesome find of the victim`s body, discarded in a trash can and dumped at Greensburg Salem Middle School, when they began interviewing six suspects at the police station that day.

Attorney Michael DeMatt honed in on discrepancies in Meidinger`s statements to police as he cross-examined her in the fifth day of testimony against Marinucci for the murder of Daugherty, a mentally challenged woman from Mt. Pleasant.

Accused of torturing Daugherty for more than two days before stabbing her are three couples — Marinucci and boyfriend Ricky Smyrnes; Meidinger and boyfriend Melvin Knight; and Peggy Miller and boyfriend Robert Masters.

DeMatt got Meidinger to admit that she initially tried to downplay her own involvement in the slaying by placing all the blame on Marinucci and Smyrnes.

They are accused of luring Daugherty to Smyrnes` apartment on North Pennsylvania Avenue because Marinucci thought Daugherty was interfering with “her man,” according to testimony.

Meidinger told DeMatt the group had a series of “family meetings` to decide if Marinucci or Daugherty would be “an appropriate mother figure” if Smyrnes was to regain custody of his son.

At the second meeting, Marinucci gave Smyrnes an ultimatum: “You`re going to have to choose, me or Jen. And if you pick me, you have to get rid of Jen,” Meidinger testified.

At the third meeting, Daugherty`s fate was sealed. Meidinger said everybody “wanted Jennifer dead.”

DeMatt attacked Meidinger`s credibility over her initial statement to police, which contradicts her trial testimony.

“You left Peggy out of it?” he asked Meidinger.

“Yes,” she replied.

“You left Robert out of it?”


“You left Melvin out of it?”


Police didn`t buy Meidinger`s initial statement.

“At that point, you changed your story, didn`t You?` asked DeMatt.

“Yes,” Meidinger answered.

“You left yourself out of it during that second story?” the attorney asked. “You essentially left out the four of you that were picked up at the Sunoco station?”

In the third version she gave to police, Meidinger admitted she had made up cocktails that included urine, feces and bleach that Daugherty was forced to drink as Meidinger hit her with a metal towel rack.

“Finally, you did admit that you used your own feces to give to Jennifer?” DeMatt asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“You still didn`t tell them that Melvin stabbed her?”

“I did not,” replied Meidinger, who gave birth to Knight`s baby while she was being held in the county prison while awaiting trial. Their daughter is in foster care.

Meidinger testified that Marinucci had sent Daugherty a series a text messages over the weekend, before her death, asking if they could discuss their relationship with Smyrnes.

Daugherty never realized that she was being lured into a trap.

During DeMatt`s methodical questioning, he highlighted Meidinger`s lack of candor and her attempts to limit her culpability in the crime. Despite facing a possible death sentence, Meidinger said she was testifying against the advice of her attorney, Amy Keim.

“I was willing to talk to them without a plea bargain,” Meidinger said.

“You were trying to place all the blamed on what happened to Jen on Ricky and Angie?”

“Yes,` she said.

Prosecutors will also seek the death penalty if they convict Knight and Smyrnes of first-degree murder.


Police link items in Greensburg apartment to killing of Jennifer Daugherty

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 February 16, 2010 12:00 am

 By Sadie Gurman

A bloody metal crutch, a knife, a pair of white high-top shoes and a plastic bag full of hair were among the items detectives pulled from an apartment where a woman was held captive and tortured last week, according to a police report that offers new glimpses into her slaying.

Detectives found an oil diffuser, bottles of prescription drugs, and a towel rack inside the rooms of 428 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Greensburg, where police say 30-year-old Jennifer Daugherty was abused and killed by six people she considered friends.

From the living room, police collected several blue, plastic light bulbs and a garland. From the bedroom, they took a “Christmas bag” filled with bottles of nail polish. The crutch, knife and bag of hair came from the attic, where police say the six suspects tried to hide the evidence.

The items, listed in an inventory of seized property, fit disturbingly with what police said unfolded in the apartment over 36 hours — that the group beat Ms. Daugherty with household items including the towel rack, the crutch and a vacuum cleaner hose, bound her with Christmas decorations, painted her face with nail polish, cut her hair, and forced her to write a fake suicide note.

They fed her medication, oil and urine and stabbed her to death for reasons police said are still unknown. Ms. Daugherty’s body, found in a garbage can at Greensburg Salem Middle School on Thursday, was the first in a string of gruesome discoveries for detectives investigating the crime and the tangled relationships of those charged in it.

Jailed without bond on charges of homicide, kidnapping, aggravated assault and conspiracy are Ricky Smyrnes, 23, Robert Masters Jr., 36, Melvin Knight, 20, Peggy Miller, 27, Amber Meidinger, 20 and Angela Marinucci, 17.

Police on Monday were trying to learn more about their backgrounds and how their lives intertwined, Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck said.

At least two of them have been arrested in the past, with Mr. Smyrnes’ criminal record being the most extensive.  One of the defendants, Ms. Meidinger, made headlines nearly 16 years ago when her mother was charged with trying to sell her for $10,000 in a shopping center parking lot.

Flora A. Meidinger avoided prison time but was ordered to take a parenting course when she pleaded guilty in 1994 to trying to sell her daughter, who was 4 at the time.

State police watched as Ms. Meidinger accepted a $2,000 down payment from a buyer she had arranged to meet at a Unity shopping center and arrested the mother of three when the money changed hands, the Post-Gazette reported at the time. Ms. Meidinger was seven months pregnant with a fourth child.

As part of her sentence, she was forbidden to have contact with her daughter. The newspaper reported that her children were taken from her by the Children’s Bureau after her arrest.

Through her husband, Harry Haase, Ms. Meidinger, now Flora Haase, declined to comment Monday night.

Still unknown was how Ms. Daugherty came to know her attackers. Her relatives have said she had the mental capacity of an adolescent, a disability that made her especially trusting and kind. She went to the apartment willingly, police said, boarding a bus from Mount Pleasant, where she lived with her mother and stepfather, on Feb. 8.

Though none was officially on the lease, neighbors said the six suspects moved into the upstairs apartment no more than a month ago and were frequently noisy and fighting.

Randy Hoyman, who lives in the basement apartment, said he was awakened by a woman’s long screams early Thursday morning. He said he heard “many voices screaming and hollering” the night before, but “paid it no mind” because the neighbors had fought so many times before.

Police have said they did not see Ms. Daugherty or sense trouble when another neighbor, Floria Headen, called them to the apartment about 6:15 p.m. Tuesday for a fight between Mr. Smyrnes and Robert Cathcart, a roommate who was moving out. He is not charged in the slaying.

When fighting continued on Wednesday night, neighbors said they opted not to call police because they believed nothing could be done to stop it.

“I felt if I called again, they’d say, ‘We’ve been there, there’s nothing we can do about it,’ ” Mr. Hoyman said. “I wish I would have. I did not ever think that was going on up there.”

Other items police found include a screwdriver, a pair of blue-handled scissors, a notebook, a “large pointed stick,” a container of laundry detergent and “numerous wooden sticks,” according to the inventory.  They found several kinds of medications, including an empty bottle of Ms. Meidinger’s antidepressant, sertraline, and Ms. Miller’s antibiotics.

From the living room, they took a copy of the book “The Gates of Hell Are About to Open,” a fantasy thriller billed for young adults.

Detectives gathered blood samples from the bathroom, where police said Ms. Daugherty was fatally stabbed. They also seized the suicide note, which police said was dictated to her. They have not disclosed the contents of the note.

Sadie Gurman: